Welding can have dangerous consequences if you’re not satisfactorily protected. When it comes to fumes and gasses inherently produced by the welding process, there are several routes to creating them. The process of welding necessitates the melting of two materials through a highly energetic process which produces fumes and gas. Without proper mitigation techniques, the welder and surrounding personnel run the risk of inhaling metals and gasses such as:
Aluminum, antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium oxides, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorides, iron oxides, lead, magnesium, molybdenum, nickel, silver, tin, titanium, vanadium, zinc oxides
Argon, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, helium, hydrogen fluoride, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, phosgene
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released a fact sheet regarding controlling hazardous fumes and gases while welding suggesting this is an occupational hazard that needs to be accounted for.
Common symptoms of acute exposure to welding fumes and gases can result in nose, throat, and eye irritation, along with dizziness and nausea and vomiting. Some acute symptoms also put the welder at greater risk of injury due to loss of concentration and involuntary movement when coughing. More severe acute symptoms include shortness of breath and inflammation of the lungs. Chronic symptoms of welding gas and fume exposure are chronic lung problems, several types of cancer including lung, urinary tract, and larynx.
While there are several ways to ensure protection, both personal protective equipment (PPE) and engineering controls can be used to mitigate any health hazards. These include items such as a face shield (PPE) which protect your eyes and face from light and particulate materials and a proper ventilation system (engineering controls) that effectively mitigate any risk of fume inhalation through an efficient exchange of air in the room that work is being completed in.
From an industrial standpoint, fume extraction is an ideal method of mitigating any health hazards. Fume extraction is often done with a welding fume extractor. This provides the ability to pull air directly away from the source of welding and thereby extracting hazardous fumes and gases prior to interacting with the welder. Welding fume extractors can be mobile or built directly into the infrastructure providing the most flexibility in protecting personnel.
Industrial whole-room filters do not guarantee removal of all gases and fumes that are originating locally by the welder. In fact, OSHA states that even while working outdoors, there can be no guarantee that the fumes and gas inhalation hazard is mitigated. They suggest local ventilation such as a welding fume extractor is an ideal method of proper ventilation for welders.
Other mitigating techniques
Welding fumes and gases are specific to the type of materials and the type of welding that are involved in the process. Therefore, reducing the harmful gases and fumes that originate from the weld itself is an effective form of protection. Welding surfaces should have their coatings removed as coatings will mix with the welding materials producing secondary toxic fumes and gases that are not part of the weld itself. Additionally, the welder can try substituting some materials in the welding process for less toxic materials.
Why should you use fume extractors?
OSHA suggests that the ideal way to remove gases and fumes is through direct ventilation through a device that pulls the air directly away from the welder prior to having an opportunity to harm the welder. A direct-ventilation is the safest way to protect yourself.